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Tue, Mar 28, 2000

Lorain urged to enact ban on beryllium

By MORGAN LEWIS JR. Morning Journal Writer

LORAIN -- Lorain City Council chambers were packed with nearly 100 people last night, most to sound-off in favor of a citywide ban on the metal beryllium, in what was the first of at least two public hearings.

The proposed ban could affect the Brush Wellman plant on Baumhart Road, where brush engineered bronze, a non-beryllium product, is produced. However, Brush Wellman Inc. is the country's largest supplier of beryllium.

Brush Wellman officials have said they do not expect beryllium to be used at the Lorain plant. But they will not rule out that it will never be used.

People from as far as Toledo attended the meeting to speak out against potentially toxic metal and the deadly lung disease, called chronic beryllium disease, caused by exposure to beryllium dust. Brush Wellman has a beryllium plant in Elmore, near Toledo, where several cases of chronic beryllium disease have been reported.

'People die from beryllium exposure believe it,' said Glenn Petersen, who said he worked in the Elmore plant for five years.

Several Lorain-area residents mentioned family members who became sick after working at a Lorain beryllium plant in the late 1930s and 40s. The plant was owned by Brush Wellman, then called Brush Beryllium, and that plant burned down in 1948.

'I'm speaking for my sister-in-law who died at 50 years old after suffering from the effects of beryllium disease,' said Dorothy Pager of Vermilion. 'She never was an employee of Brush Beryllium, only a victim of living in proximity to the plant. I urge City Council to ban any foreseeable use of beryllium in this city.'

Ohio Citizen Action, an environmental and consumer affairs watchdog group, has joined with Lorain City Councilwoman Kathy Tavenner, D-at-large, who has been pushing for the beryllium ban for more than a year.

'We've encouraged companies not to control their pollution, but to prevent it,' said Amy Ryder, Cleveland area program director for Ohio Citizen Action. 'We see this (ban) as a preventative measure.'

Hugh Hanes, Brush Wellman's vice president of governmental affairs, said the company will not agree to a guarantee to never manufacture beryllium in Lorain because of the precedent it would set across the country where the company has other facilities.

'We think it's bad public policy,' Hanes said. 'The bottom line is that it's unnecessary legislation because of the regulations that already exist.'

On March 10, Tavenner presented City Council a stack of documents nearly a foot high of all the articles, studies, correspondence and information she has collected about beryllium and her attempts to ban it in Lorain.

While some City Council members spoke in favor of the ban, others were opposed to passing a city law that could be revoked in court if the company sued the city.

'If we would pass an ordinance that would not hold up in a court of law, that would be doing an even greater disservice to the people than doing nothing at all,' said Lorain Councilman Anthony Krasienko. 'We need to bring more factual information to the table. To do it haphazardly is a disservice to the community.'

Assistant Law Director George Koury said his office is working on legislation that could categorize beryllium as a city health nuisance, which may stand if challenged in court, but more information must be collected.

'We don't know what the issue is going to ultimately reveal yet,' Koury said. 'But it is within our state statute that the city should not have to tolerate a nuisance.'

Tavenner said the first of what may be several meetings on the beryllium ban was an overall success.

'We did really well for the first meeting,' she said. 'We need to hear everything we can and get all the information out there before we pass a ban, so our law director can defend it in court.'

Another meeting will be April 24.

Brush Wellman's 50,000-square-foot, $12 million Lorain plant opened in November 1997.

Beryllium has been produced for the nation's military since the 1940s and is used in missiles, bombs and jet fighters. Today it is also used in high-tech items like computers, cellular phones and ignition control systems, according to the company.

In July 1996, City Council approved a 10-year, 60 percent abatement of real estate and personal property taxes for the new Lorain Brush Wellman plant.

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